Friday, April 30, 2010

Melissa -- a solo warrior

Team Velo Girls member, Melissa Hick, shares her experience at her very first criterium:


Wente Vineyards Classic Criterium: April 25, 2010

Photo by

So here goes. My first race report for my first-ever crit! Angela and I went to Livermore on Sunday and raced the Wente Criterium. We arrived at about 11:30 a.m. that morning for our 12:50 p.m. start time ready to go. We were both nervous/excited for the race, but I think my nerves rubbed off on Angela a bit. I was literally twitching with anticipation the whole way there.

I set up my trainer in the shade and got a decent warm-up as I watched the Master's 45+/55+ and Junior races. Our race started at 1 p.m. (a few minutes behind because of a bad crash during the master's race) with a full field of
Cat 4 racers.

Next thing I know, we're off! I clipped in without any issues (thank goodness) and headed for the first sweeper turn with the pack straight for the bots dots. Good thing I went to the Early Bird clinics because I knew I could roll right over those bots dots and not get squirrelly.

Even though Angela and I didn't have the best position at the line at the start, we worked our way up to the pack. The pace was quick from the get-go and I just kept telling myself to stay on a wheel and reserve my energy! The pack set up for the next tight, right turn, and then we were on a long straightaway. We were flying and I was having a blast! I stayed with the pack for about 3 laps and even though the mentor riding with us during the race kept encouraging me to stay on the wheel in front of me, eventually I popped off the back.

When I came around for the fourth lap, I was a "solo warrior" as the announcer called it. I kept going, paying attention to how I should set up for each turn and powering through the windy straightaways. I was out there by myself for a bit and each time I came through the start/finish line, the announcer and the crowd cheered me on. That really helped me keep going even though my legs were not happy.

I got lapped by the pack a couple times, and with 3 laps to go I saw Angela and a Tibco II rider behind me so I jumped on a wheel and hung on for dear life. We worked together for the rest of the race, but when we came around for the bell lap, the officials were flagging us because there had just been a crash. We moved around the girl laying on the pavement, worried about what had happened (still not sure exactly). We finished up our last lap with a "photo finish" - me on Angela's wheel crossing the line.

All in all, it great fun and I can't wait to do it again. Thanks to all my amazing teammates who wished me good luck/congrats. Who's ready for round two in Livermore for the PG&E crit?!

Friday, April 23, 2010

"my life has forever been changed!"

Team Velo Girls member, Kerri, shares her life-changing experience at the BOGGS V 8 hour mountain bike race on April 3rd:


The quick short summary of Boggs is that we camped, we froze, we got snowed on, we rode some awesome single track, we cheered each other on, we finished strong!

Six of us went up to Boggs Mountain State forest near Cobb, California. I bet you don’t know where Cobb, Ca is now do you? It is about 3 hours from here, north of Calistoga. 2 teams of two, Carolyn and Gnat along with Cristina and Amy conquered the the course in a relay fashion. Lorri and I attempted the 8hr solo event.

There were many racers on the course at all times making it intimidating for me. The race started off as a mass start (600 registrations sold but many of those are teams therefore not all out on the course at once). The race was a circuit of approximately 9 mile laps. Our Velo Girls teams alternated doing one lap at a time. The challenge of this was that in between laps it was easy to get quite cold, the starting temperature of the day was 29 degrees. The saddles on our bikes were frosted over and my camelback tubing was frozen. I enjoyed heating up water to thaw my camelback before the race, I knew at this time it was going to be a fun race.

My goal was to complete 5 laps of the course and I plugged away one lap at a time. The first 3 laps were challenging for me as I felt that I was being pushed off the course for being too slow. On two occasions people tried to pass me during inopportune times therefore bumping us both off our bikes (one a tight switch back, the other in a rocky narrow turn). It really frustrated me. Also during the first lap as I approached a turn on a newly added section to the course (therefore I had not pre-rode it) there was a guy heckling at me yelling “let off the brakes girl, the bike’s meant to go forward, etc.” He had a group of 20 plus people roaring in laughter at me. I was literally humiliated. I was even shaking in the knees despite the fact I knew I shouldn’t let any idiot get under my skin.

I was left feeling frustrated, like I didn’t belong out there and ultimately feeling like “what am I doing, I just love to ride my bike, this isn’t what I signed up for.” As I approached the end of lap 3 I had settled in and decided to forget the race. I am not a quitter and I will finish my goal of 5 laps. I am going to forget about the other people out here and enjoy my “leisurely Saturday ride.” I then approached lap 4 and 5 in a relaxed approach, pulled over to let people pass so I could save my sanity.

During lap 5 I was encouraged by my self talk of “yep, last time I’ll see this on my bike” as I went through each section of the course. At a moment I was deep in on the course, all by myself, snow started to fall on me and I LAUGHED and SMILED to myself. Character building. I really had a blast at this time, my skills improved throughout the day, I was feeling very comfortable on my bike and simply amazed at how my skills were coming along. I really settled into riding the fast swoopy sections of the course, loving the feel of my bike. I rode every section of the course and for the girls who raced, they will attest that there were some tricky sections.

At last I approached the final fire road climb out, the race was over from here... I did it... 5 laps.

As I wheeled into the finish line I was greeted by the cheering of my teammates, Gnat, Carolyn, Cristina and Amy but wait what was Lorri doing, motioning me to keep going and yelling “you’re in 2nd place, you can’t stop now, you gotta do one more lap.” Umm, what??? But... I was done... my whole mental game was to be done now?! But wait, 2nd place... really... I’m not gonna give that up without a fight. So Lorri nicely opened a cadbury easter egg for me, shoved it in my mouth... and away I went... for lap #6... with a smile still on my face.

Once again, just me and my bike, and the official “last lap.” My legs were starting to feel tired but I didn’t care, I was newly energized. During this lap people started talking a lot, the men were asking “are you doing this solo? Wow, 6th lap, this only lap 3 for me.” Another woman, after descending behind me on a fast technical section, complimented me on my bike handling skills. Several encouraging conversations occurred on this lap, what a change from the start. Counting down the miles, for certain this time, I crossed the finish line.

8 1/2 hours on my bike, ~50 miles, 8000ft of climbing and still in 2nd place! I was greeted by my WONDERFUL teammates cheering me on and it felt so amazing! I can’t say enough how much I appreciate our team, what a great group of friends!!

The mental game of this race was absolutely crazy to me, I went from feeling discouraged, humiliated and frustrated to feeling proud and excited and that YES I did belong on that course! I had 8 hours of bonding with me and my bike and I really think I am a better rider because of it.

Mountain biking has been a very empowering thing for me! Since moving to California I must say the find for me has been discovering the dirt, my life has forever been changed!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a year in the making

Team Velo Girls member, Carolyn Thompson, shares her experience racing mountain bike cross country at Sea Otter Classic for the first time.


Well the day of reckoning came and went for me on Sunday April 18th - the location? Sea Otter Classic of course!

Since last spring when I decided I would try my hand at Sea Otter for the first time in 2010, I've been thinking about (and stressing about if the truth be told!) doing well at Sea Otter. In January I got serious and put together a training plan with 14 weeks of focused training leading to a peak for this race. I slogged through hours on the trainer while it was pouring outside and dark before the end of my work day and muddy slippy rides on the weekends. I set my goal as top 10 in my age group knowing that was a stretch goal but a realistic one I hoped to achieve with dedicated training and focus!

I got lots of advice from past racers and our very own Lorri Lee Lown - all of which was playing over in my head as I lined up on the front starting line! This years course started the racers on the race track between turns 4 and 5. Quick de-tour: Can I just say as an avid motorcycle race fan and frequent spectator at motorcycle races at Laguna that I was out-of-my-mind excited to be racing on "the" race track at Laguna!! For part of our warm up we spun up, and then jammed down the infamous Cork Screw turn and I was bubbling over with excitement the entire time! Ok end detour back to RACING! With teammates Kerri Stevenson off in the heat ahead of me a Mariska Vodegel in the group behind, I held my own on the front line at the starting grid. 30 seconds ladies...and we are off!

As if she was shot out of a cannon, the skinny fully kit'ed rider from Specialized I noticed as serious competition before was out in front and in the blink of an eye she was rounding turn 4 headed for the Andretti Hairpin (Turns 2)! I got on the back of a train of 4 or 5 girls but they were taking their time and I wanted to get a jump and put some space between me and others before we got off the track and onto the trails. My legs were feeling good, heart rate a little higher than I'd like but this is racing, so I click up a few gears and pull past all of them, enjoying the pristine tarmac on the race track as I headed, IN SECOND PLACE!!, around turn 11, up turns 10 and 9 before jumping off the track onto the rutted sand run-off section that puts us out on the trails.

The fire road climb bring a passer or two from the group chasing but I bring them both back using momentum from the downhill sections to pull me up the short climbs. The fire road had a well beaten line in it that was free of the scary loose gravel that was there during both of my pre-rides so I was able to push it faster there than I expected - it didn't hurt that I was catching girls from the group in front of my giving me a few rabbits to catch up to. Two girls from my group pass me and this time the pass sticks and I push to keep with them on the final fire road climb before we get to the first section of beloved single track.

We hit the single track and I'm in 4th place now and know I'm fast in that section of the course, I push up a gear and crank and quickly bring them into sight. Someone from the group before us is slowing the train down in front of me which only helps pull them closer in and just like that I'm hooked back up to the train of ladies fighting for top 5! We cross the road and start the single track climb up to the infamous "Beach". I keep in contact with the girls ahead and make a few passes to get past those holding us up. A number of folks kindly pull over when they hear the train of ladies huffing and puffing up the hill and I holler out "one more back" so they keep the spot open for me as well - they gladly do! Climb over and we hit the roller fire road up to the "Beach". I make a pass, putting me in 3rd or 4th but she doesn't give up easily and keeps right with me.

And now the "Beach"...condition s were perfect and I should have been able to stay on but I lost it part of the way down and had to drop a foot - Drat!! I get passed by one, two, three girls...grrrrr! Not happy! I flail with one foot out and one more passes me and I realize I've got to run this baby - so I'm off and running. Finally out of the sand I remount and jam but the damage is done and the girls are out of sight. With my delusions of fame, fortune and top 5 smashed I push on knowing I can still meet my goal of top 10 but can't slack off. The single track uphill after the beach is a non-stop route of short, steep uphill kicks without much relief in between and my hard effort at the start is showing because my legs are not cooperating and I struggle to get up the hardest stuff. Finally at the top I gear up and descend the fire road and then regular road before using all my momentum to propel me up onto the next fire road at about the 45min
mark - time to GU!! Yummy Mint Chocolate!

I climb the short fire road leading to the final single track of the course, pushing through the single track I reach to top very pleased with my single track skills for the day. Then I see it...the trail that has been giving me heart burn since my first pre-ride...3 deep rutted out sections back-to back that I had yet to ride all the way through. My fearless riding partner and husband Aaron had shown me the right line, pumped me up that I could do it but it was up to me to make it happen! I couldn't afford to get off and walk for fear of who was behind me so on I went. Section 1 & 2 = not so bad! Ahead of me looms the third and hardest section - I know the race line is on the far right and that it is initially blocked from view by a shrub so trusting Aaron's advice, and ignoring the 2 boys walking it on the left!, I push on to the right, hollering out to the walkers below that I was riding and on the right. And like that it was over - I had lived,
was not horribly mangled and had actually made it down! Yippee!

With my daemons conquered, hoping I was still top ten I pushed on the final fire road climb up Skyline. My legs were screaming so I did what I could to survive the climb, passing others and getting passed some of the time. With relief in sight and cheers coming from all around I took the hard left down the final trail to the track. I made it through, almost...had to drop a foot due to bad gear choice on a short uphill...and was back onto the sacred ground of the race track with my wheels pointed downhill finally! I put on all the gear I had, channeled Nicky Hayden's MotoGP cornering skills and mashed down turn 6, whipped around turn 5 and finished pushing all out!

I did meet my goal of top ten - 9th out of 21 for my category, but I'd be lying if I didn't was I was disappointed to not be in the top 5! In the end I know that I left everything out there on the race course and am pleased with where my training put me in the end. I have more improvements to make and better race form to achieve throughout the year but this Velo Girl is proud to be in the top 10 racing against some really top notch competition and to have my first Sea Otter race under my belt!

Thanks for reading!